Fallout Continues as Beer Industry Grapples with Accusations of Widespread Sexism and Abuse

Over the weekend, several breweries named in accounts of misogyny and misbehavior within the beer industry released statements.

The leaders of Philadelphia-based Evil Genius Beer Company issued a statement on the brewery’s Instagram account on Saturday, May 22, that acknowledged past mismanagement and outlined the company’s next steps to improve its culture.

“We’ve made mistakes in leading Evil Genius,” the company wrote. “It has not always been the place we want it to be, and we take responsibility for that. We are sorry for the impact that our mistakes have made on the people who gave so much to our business.”

Evil Genius was named several times in stories shared on social media by Brienne Allan, who began lending her Instagram platform (@ratmagnet) on May 11 to hundreds of beer industry employees — mostly women — who shared their experiences of discrmination, sexual harassment, hostile work environments and sexual assault

After meeting with employees, Evil Genius management said it plans to:

  • “Make changes to brewery policies to ensure we are creating a safe and inclusive environment for every member of our team;
  • Create a committee on diversity, equity and inclusion of staff from across the brewery to offer ongoing guidance to brewery leadership on areas such as staff training and other operational changes that are necessary to ensure the brewery aligns with its values and those of our team;
  • Expand our efforts to intentionally recruit and retain a more diverse team that represents our Philadelphia community, focusing on communities traditionally underrepresented in the craft beer industry and offering appropriate training and ongoing support to ensure their success.”

In their post, the leaders of Evil Genius noted that its taproom management team has changed over completely and the company’s new general manager, assistant general manager and kitchen manager “are all committed to the safety of our staff.”

Hours after Evil Genius management shared their post, another statement signed by 18 members of the staff was posted to the brewery’s Instagram account that detailed the meeting they had with co-founders Luke Bowen and Trevor Hayward.

“Trevor and Luke were humble and open to feedback about their gaps in leadership in the past and are committed to reworking systems that ensure the company culture ‘buck’ stops with them,” the employees wrote. “They are actively participating with current staff members to seek a meaningful resolution that puts a system in place to make Evil Genius a safe, inclusive and enjoyable place to work.”

It is unclear if the 18 employees who signed the post make up the whole staff or if there are other employees who did not sign.

Former general manager Garrett Lee Williams posted a statement on his Instagram account acknowledging his “problematic behavior” during his four-year tenure at Evil Genius, which concluded in September.

“I can directly attest to the toxic culture and actions of management of Evil Genius, having worked as GM for owners Trevor and Luke for 4 years,” he wrote. “While I was inexcusably unaware of the harm I caused, I was admittedly aware of consistently toxic culture at Evil Genius that perpetuates the misogynist boys’ club culture of the craft beer industry.”

Evil Genius enlisted the services of external HR consultants Bambee on April 8, Bowen told Brewbound.

Asked if the company has contacted former employees who may have shared stories with Allan, Bowen explained that “since these accusations are being made anonymously, we don’t know who to reach out to.”

Last week, Hayward stepped down from his position on the board of directors of Philly Loves Beer, the non-profit organization that hosts Philly Beer Week.

Meanwhile, the staff of Ardmore, Pennsylvania-based Tired Hands Brewing Company shared a message via Instagram on Sunday apologizing for “the toxic culture that existed at Tired Hands Brewing Company.” Last week, the employees asked co-founder Jean Broillet to step down from leading the company’s day-to-day operations, and shared that co-founder Julie Foster exited the company in March. However, it remains unclear what that means for Broillet’s and Foster’s ownership of Tired Hands.

“Regarding our ownership: it’s complicated,” the employees wrote. “They have agreed to step down from operations to let us do the work of mending that which is frayed. While we believe in redemption and forgiveness, for now, we are focusing on what we can do — our own actions.”

With Broillet and Foster out of daily management, Tired Hands staff is working on a new mission statement and values and have begun communication with former employees. The workers noted that they’ll resume normal social media activity on the brewery’s account soon, and “it’s going to be 100% awkward.”

“But we have 38 employees to support,” they wrote. “Please consider this. We’ve read every comment and story, we will continue to do so, and we will engage to answer your questions.”

Outside of Pennsylvania, Lemont, Illinois-headquartered Pollyanna Brewing Company, which announced the departure of former president and CEO Paul Ciciora last week, shared that it had since learned of “numerous allegations regarding Paul Ciciora and sexual misconduct.”

“We took an early allegation of Paul’s sexual misconduct very seriously,” the company wrote on Facebook. “We quickly suspended him, sent him to counseling, implemented our HR and ethics program, began annual harassment training, and enacted a zero tolerance policy. Paul was only allowed to come back when he met strict rehabilitation guidelines and we were confident that he was committed to abiding by Pollyanna’s focus on inclusion, diversity, and respect for others.”

However, when a new allegation surfaced, Pollyanna’s leadership said it was “clear that he could no longer be a part of Pollyanna’s future.”

“We immediately got to work listening to the victim’s story and those that were a witness to it,” Pollyanna wrote. “With all the information in hand, we took swift action and within a weekend, the Ppresident and CEO of the company was out.”

Ciciora remains the brewery’s majority shareholder, but the company is “certainly working through all angles to address it.”

In Vermont, Shaun Hill, the embattled founder of Hill Farmstead Brewery, told VTDigger the secondhand accounts of his problematic behavior documented in the stories Allan shared — including one about a lewd comment he allegedly made about her — were akin to “a game of telephone.”

Hill told VTDigger he was “committed to participating in changing the beer industry.”

Salem, Massachusetts-based Notch Brewing, where Allan is the production manager, detailed its own misstep in handling a sexual harassment case involving a former employee 18 months ago on the brewery’s Instagram account.

Notch owner Chris Lohring wrote that a part-time employee who worked as a taproom shift supervisor sexually harassed another industry employee at a bar in Salem. Lohring wrote that he consulted with its HR firm and asked whether he should fire the employee. The firm suggested “a written warning” for the first-time behavior.

“I failed the person on the receiving end of the harassment because I chose HR guidance, rather than doing what I knew was right at the moment,” he wrote. “He was eventually terminated, but my actions could have been much more swift.”

Lohring said Notch is in the process of setting up a third-party anonymous reporting system.

Allan directed employees who have been the victims of gendered discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual assault and reported their incidents to their companies’ HR department to unsatisfactory resolution to visit BrewProblems.com. The site is a dedicated resource for beer industry employees set up by National Injury Help, a San Diego-based law firm specializing in personal injury and mass tort law.

“They are standing by to hear from you now,” Allan wrote. “Anyone who has been treated wrongfully by a superior in their company needs to reach out immediately.”

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